Earth and Moon caught between Saturn's rings in new NASA shot

Janie Parker
April 23, 2017

During one of its recent ring-grazing dives, Cassini managed to capture an incredible image showing not only Saturn's rings, but a small speck of light that is actually our home planet Earth, peeking from between the icy rings!

Cassini was launched in 1997 as a joint project by NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Italian Space Agency (ASI) to study Saturn, the second largest planet of the Solar System, and its crowded family.

As NASA's Cassini spacecraft moves toward its Grand Finale, it will conduct its final and closest flyby of Saturn's moon Titan on April 22, 2017.

Opportunities to capture Earth from Saturn have been rare in the 13 years Cassini has spent orbiting the ringed planet.

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Perhaps the photo was a rightful goodbye to Cassini, as the spacecraft is scheduled to begin its crash at Saturn on April 23. "That's us. All of us, in Cassini's last view of Earth, a billion miles away".

In their mission statement, NASA said: "Cassini's Grand Finale is about so much more than the spacecraft's final dive into Saturn".

The US space agency (Nasa) is calling an end to 12 years of exploration and discovery at Saturn because the probe's propellant tanks are all but empty. There will be no turning back once it flies past Titan, and embark on a new path around Saturn. The spacecraft will keep making passes through the rings until September, after which it will plunge into Saturn's gaseous atmosphere that is bound to destroy it.

Two years ago, Carolyn Porco, the longtime leader of Cassini's imaging team, teared up during an on-camera interview about the mission, an example of what humans working together could do. On each orbit, the probe will draw closer and closer to the butterscotch ball of Saturn until it finally tears across the cloud tops and burns up as a spectacular fireball on September 15. Along with an Enceladus probe, a boat to sail Titan's methane seas has appeared on the wish lists of planetary scientists. The recent discovery of this process on Enceladus gives strong indications of the presence of the primary ingredients needed for life to exist on Saturn's moon. It doesn't want to shower contaminating wreckage onto these worlds that might harbor life. We're going to go shooting between Saturn and its rings, threading the needle, which means we'll be able to taste the ring particles, be able to understand more about what those are made of.

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